Tony in our garage
Tony in our garage

My husband Tony is a bit of a hoarder (1). There are two spaces in our home where his hoarding is particularly evident – his study and the garage.  For my own sanity I moved out of the study and created an office for myself in the granny flat.  I found the teetering piles of sailing and car magazines in every corner overwhelming and not conducive to working productively.  He is different that way – as long as his desk is cleared periodically, he can work happily among the piles.

The garage is hoarding on a grander scale than the study.  As a DIY enthusiast, Tony tends to hold onto a wide range of tools and bits of wood and metal rods and electrical wiring, because ‘you never know when you might need them’.  This is in addition to our camping gear, kayak, bicycles, various braais (most of which I believe are beyond their ‘shelf life’) and surplus furniture, leaving just enough space for the cars and trailer.  In the past six months or so, the piles had increased to a point where the garage was no longer usable for doing DIY projects as he couldn’t even access his work bench. The situation was exacerbated when a close friend, Dave, died in April, leaving his tools to Tony.  In fact we ended up with half of Dave’s garage contents, again an assortment of all sorts of things that could be useful one day.  I just about despaired.

At the dump
At the dump

But change is afoot.  Every few weekends over the past couple of months we have made a foray into the garage and the piles are diminishing.  It is not a fast process but slowly but surely Tony is letting some things go.  Certain items are being donated to friends who will have a better use for them. This weekend we fixed a desk that we no longer need and by Monday evening it was gone, sold on OLX.  It has left a nice space next to his workbench.  He also let go some of his stockpile of wood from an aborted woodwork project – which we took to the dump.  The best thing is that he is feeling motivated to go into the garage again.  Last night after supper he was pottering at his workbench, tidying things up and creating another throw away pile.  He has all sorts of plans now to improve the garage (with a bit of help from me).

The gist of this blog is that it is possible for hoarding husbands (or wives for that matter) to start to work through and diminish their hoard to a reasonable level in their time and at their pace. Lessons learnt from my experience with Tony (and some of my clients) are:

  • Don’t push too hard. Nagging and judging tend to result in the person digging their heels in.
  • Encourage them when they are showing signs of wanting to deal with their stuff.  Support, love, beverages and meals all help.
  • Don’t take over.  Allow the person to make the decisions about their stuff.  Just being there, and sometimes prompting them with questions about why they want to keep each item, is enough – your presence helps them to keep moving forward.
  • Don’t push quick decisions. Doing this will invariably end up in no decision and hence no progress.  I have learned to give Tony time to try out the tools, test how they are working etc., and then to decide whether or not to keep them.
  • Accept their limits.  A couple of hours at a time sorting the garage is all that Tony can usually handle, whereas I can sort and organise all day at three times the speed.  If I get frustrated with the slow pace, I disappear for a while.
  • Praise progress made.  This goes a long way.

The cherry on the top of all this progress is that Tony decided this past weekend to cancel his Car magazine subscription (more on this next time). He has given me the task of selling his 20 year complete collection online. Any takers?

(1) He has happily agreed to this blog being written, being a good-natured sort of guy.

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